Today, doctors require communication skills to complement their technical expertise. Proper communication allows you to provide a more supportive environment for patients and be better prepared to explain the implications of their conditions and required treatments. Studies show that improved communication between doctor and patient improves compliance and overall patient outcomes while also helping doctors improve their diagnostic capabilities.
Benefits of Improved Communication Skills
Strong doctor/patient communication helps develop trust and relationships that are more meaningful. Benefits include:
- Enhanced diagnostic capability
- Enhanced skills to manage difficult interactions
- Reduced work-related stress
- Increased job satisfaction
- Improved patient satisfaction
- Improved compliance
- Positive impact on patient
However, only 10 percent of a message is delivered through verbal communication. Therefore, doctors must understand how to communicate both verbally and non-verbally, paying attention to their own body language and learning to recognize a patient’s non-verbal cues.
Common barriers encountered between patients and doctors include:
- Lack of communication skills
- Lack of information shared
- Overlooking or ignoring non-verbal components of communication
- Lack of knowledge about the disease or treatment
- Basic human failings
Time constraints due to a busy appointment schedule also rush conversations leaving patients feeling overwhelmed or feeling neglected.
Listening to Patients
Listening is an active process that includes both verbal and nonverbal cues. Improved listening skills include:
- Showing interest with facial expressions, nodding, and body language
- Contact such as patting a patient’s shoulder or holding their hand
- Not interrupting
- Asking if patients have questions or comments
Creating good, trustworthy first impressions are important. Key practice points would include:
- Maintain privacy for all conversations
- Greet the patient immediately
- Know the patient’s name and how to pronounce it
- Maintain eye contact comfortably
Medical interviews should focus on the patient’s condition and psycho-social bearing using the following approach:
- Remain aware of non-verbal communication — both yours and the patient’s
- Answer questions promptly and respond to the patient’s reactions
- Discuss in detail their condition, prognosis, treatment and further required investigations with an explanation for more expensive elements and how they will improve outcomes
- Involve the patient in the decision-making process
- Motivate positive lifestyle modifications
Throughout all interactions, it is important to use simple language and avoid medical jargon.
Difficult Patients and Situations
There are many types of patients who can present difficult situations and require special considerations and management, including:
- Dependent patients require a professional demeanor and boundaries with the assurance you are there for them.
- Demanding patients require empathy to overcome their aggression and ensure they will receive the best possible care.
- Manipulative patients doubt treatment effectiveness and require empathy, good listening, and patience in explaining the treatment and presenting treatment options with limits set on expected outcomes.
- Self-destructive patients can be depressed, but also might be non-compliant with their treatment and needs for their condition. Set realistic expectations being certain they understand when resolutions are limited while also trying to understand why they are not compliant. In some cases, psychological support is required.
Disclosing bad news can be devastating for patients and can be easier to handle when you are prepared:
- Rehearse how you will present the news.
- Ask some questions to determine how familiar patients are about the condition so you can choose the best course of action to present the news.
- Take the patient’s lead to determine how much detail they require.
- Use simple, non-technical terms.
- Offer comfort responding empathetically to their emotions.
- Present a plan of action so they feel less helpless.
Doctors should include communication training as part of their education to help develop trusting relationships and improve outcomes for their patients.
If you would like to learn how to use patient education and communication to grow your practice, click here.